I hope that when you ask me about your childhood, I have a ready story or a moment you’ve never heard before described in a way in which you can see yourself from my perspective, a child who loves her sister fiercely, who will wrap her arms and legs around my arm in a gigantic hug if a scary scene plays on a show. What I don’t wish for is to be a parent and perhaps a grandparent who says, “I don’t know; it all blurs together.” But, it does.
There are so many days in which I laugh, feel joy, am sleep deprived to the point where my brain feels buried beneath layered waves of tiredness. I’ll tell you a story about the two mice, Hearty Finn and Hearty Tiny, who have become central characters to our nightly bedtime story, and you will reply, “That was the best story ever and you are the best daddy ever.” You’ll hug me then and your hair, so much like your mother’s, will catch in my beard and a fierce love fills me with a feeling to not let go.
Yesterday, you accidentally spun your sister too fast in a chair. She fell and bit her lip or knocked her teeth, amidst the blood and the tears it was hard to tell. You looked at me holding her and ran to your room, hid under your blankets. Later, I told you, no one is angry at you. You’re not in trouble. It’s scary to hurt someone you love, isn’t it?
Yes, you replied, now sitting on my bed with me.
I want to write more of these moments to give you the gift of insight. I want you to have my voice after I’m gone, a point with which to connect as I so desperately miss that experience now that my parents are gone and there is no one to tell me stories from my childhood.
One of your gifts to me is the ability to see your delight in the world. This Christmas, we gave you and your sister a large, circular, webbed swing that hangs down from a tree in our backyard. You ask me to swing you as high as the moon. I pull the swing back over my head and push. Your laughter calls out among the bare trees. Your laughter is pure; it is of you at this moment, hanging on as the wind whips your hair and you sail through the air, away from me and then back over my head on a Saturday afternoon that could be any Saturday afternoon as the moments softly build up.
I was inspired by Hope Coulter to write about books I’ve read from 2018. My reading habits continue to form around literary fiction, science fiction, and fantasy; but I’m reading more nonfiction and feel the need to get back to poetry. I was previously spoiled by working at a library with a vast poetry collection. If I reviewed the book, it will be linked below. My complete list of books is here.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
The Overstory by Richard Powers.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.
Ancillary Justice and the following two novels in the series by Ann Leckie. The novels offer a fresh perspective and the main character is wonderful.
Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennet. The novel takes place in a world were an enslaved colony has killed the gods of the colonial power and risen up. Now the former colonial empire is a messed up backwater while the former colony is on their way to becoming an empire. It’s more of an urban fantasy book with an interesting take on magic and faith.
The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson.
A Highwind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. The novel is moving, funny, and dark as the innocence of childhood is explored through pirates accidentally kidnapping children.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.
Kindred by Octavia Butler.
Excuses, excuses. No more.
Starting personal training again. Need to get back to it after a very unpredictable year and a half.
Schweine HUnD by Paulina. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The 4yo and I play a game where we tell silly, two-sentence stories that verge on the surreal. It started when I was tired of telling stories and the kids wanted just “one more.” An example might be, “Once upon a time, there was a car that had feet instead of wheels. The end.”
As the 4yo and I traded stories back and forth at bedtime, she said, “Once upon a time, there was a dog that was longer than usual…The end.” We both burst out laughing because the story was so unfunny. There was nothing bizarre or surreal about it.
It’s been sixteen months since my mom died. The changing seasons seem to bring a renewed sadness as those markers of change go by unremarked by my mom. There is no scent of cinnamon baking in her kitchen. No comment on the colors. Not normally a football fan, she always enjoyed it when Northwestern would beat a Big 10 powerhouse. Her canned tomatoes have not been put up for the year. Talk of the cool weather is not forthcoming. She doesn’t drive out Grand Traverse Penisula and park her car at the point where one can see both bays. She’s a story. A memory. A feeling.
Green tomato relish, tomato sauce, bread and butter pickles.
Last night I cleaned out the cupboards and found the last three jars of canned goods my mom gave me. If we eat them, then they’re gone, then another piece of Mom is somehow gone. There will be no more care packages or dusty jars set aside for an overdue visit home. But why save them? My mom loved to share food with people. She loved to feed people. She understood how people come together both in the making and eating of food.
For now, they sit on the shelf, a reminder, and an inspiration. Perhaps my family and I can take over the tradition and put up cans of tomatoes, relish, and preserves.
Under budget and over the deadline, but finally, The Patterns of Place: Seeking Shelter; Finding Home is published. Please read all the wonderful poems, stories and essays.
Last night’s story for the almost 4yo was about a crocodile named Hungry Pete who would eat anything in the river. A refrigerator floated down with a delicious, rotten treat inside of it. Hungry Pete wanted to eat, eat, eat. He hit the fridge with his tail. No luck. He pushed a fallen tree onto it. No luck. He guided it toward a waterfall where it burst open. Hungry Pete rushed to the fridge and started eating the rotten food inside, but then the fridge clamped it’s doors shut on the crocodile. It sprouted arms and legs. It ate Hungry Pete right up. Then it got out of the river and walked away. The 4yo approved of the story and went to bed.
Yesterday, I thought, “fifty-one weeks ago, my mom was alive.” It was such a sad thought. This reminder, this new mark on which I measure the world. How long since Mom died. Or, how much older or younger than when Mom died, when I see the deaths of people in the news. Like, oh, Tom Petty died ten years earlier than Mom. Or, that Oliver Sacks got six years more than Mom. What would Mom have seen if she’d lived six more years? She’d see both her granddaughters walk. S— at nine-years-old, and N— at six-and-a-half-years-old. Mom would’ve seen them both move from infants to toddlers to kids. She could have had conversations with them and they with her. Instead, S— has a sprinkling of memories of Mom. She has questions about death. Meanwhile N— has no memories of her Grandma. N— will have a few not great pictures of my mom holding her.
The metaphor I’ve settled on lately is phantom limbs. There is a ghostly aspect where I know my mom is gone, yet it feels like she isn’t or shouldn’t be, like I should be able to pick up the phone and call and Mom will answer in Michigan. She’ll listen to me. Offer words of advice. Her voice a connection that grounds me.